“Hush Money”

Hush Money“Hush Money” by T. E. Woods opens with the suggestion of a crime, but what is the crime, and who is this confused person stumbling around? What is that read smear across her stomach and chest? The answers are not clear. Then, the flashback, the people, the politicians, and the question “You’re blackmailing me?”

The story is set in Madison, Wisconsin, “The world’s biggest small town” and home to politicians and police. It is also now the home of two new restaurants owned by Sydney Richardson. “Ten-Ten” is a pizza, burgers, and beer bar that caters to law enforcement, the name signifying both the street address and the radio code for “Off Duty.” The second “Hush Money,” is an upscale restaurant with a top chef who transforms locally sourced ingredients into mouthwatering masterpieces. The name, “Hush Money” seems to reflect the political wheeling and dealing of capitol city politics, but is there an alternate meaning to that name as well?

Unfortunately, on the opening night of both restaurants, the mayor of Madison is murdered. As the search for the killer continues, politics, intrigue, and double-dealing are everywhere. Alliances are tested, and friendships are strained. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone blames someone else. To Sydney, everything is so tragic or so natural.

“Murder happens. You think there’s a quota on tragedy?”

Little details throughout the book make everything relatable and real. “She found a parking spot on the fourth floor of the parking structure, and followed the sidewalks winding around the gigantic institution.” We know those locations, and we know those people“The woman called out to her from the check-in desk. She was large, with upper arms straining the fabric of her neon pink scrubs.”.

The action moves back and forth through time, and each chapter is labeled to help readers keep track of the period. As the backstory counts down to the present, we learn more about the characters. Their personalities become more detailed but not necessarily nicer.

Personal relationships among all the characters are explored in detail, becoming more complex and more developed. Of course, the mayor’s murder takes center stage. Piece by piece the clues emerge, but some do not fit. Everyone has a past, and everyone is flawed. Some have succeeded, and others are deceitful as they sit in “hush Money” and eat their gourmet food. Sydney sums it up,

“How different my life is than just a week ago. Everything changes.”

Things end, but not exactly as one might think. Some questions are unanswered,